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Julianna Ulrich

Engineering Physics, B.S. '12

Q: What have you been doing in the aerospace world?

While I was still in high school I was accepted for my first internship at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) out at Edwards Air Force Base. That first internship focused on a project to develop a supersonic business jet to fly over land and minimize the shock waves from the sonic boom. The project I was on was a more detail-focused aspect of the project. However, that summer was my first introduction to Aerospace 101. I learned all about airfoils and laminar flow and sonic booms. It was a fascinating adventure in the world of aerospace. Since then I have completed four more internships at NASA DFRC. Three of the four following summers consisted of flight research with varying subscale aircraft. All of these projects required the ability to process data in Matlab and an understanding of the basic concepts of aerodynamics equations. In these projects we would first predict the results we expected on account of the geometry of the aircraft and from moments of inertia testing, and then we went out and flew the aircraft, recorded data, and then translated it to see how well our predictions matched the actual flight characteristics of the aircraft. The other summer that was not structured in this fashion was an individual project. I was working on the SOFIA team (stratospheric observatory for infrared astronomy). The SOFIA aircraft is a 747sp that has a large open cavity at the back of the aircraft in which is contained a 2.5m diameter telescope. The main goal of this project is to do infrared astronomy at an altitude of 40,000 ft in order to eliminate the atmospheric interference as well as have the flexibility to move the telescope wherever it is needed. My particular area of research on this project was to analyze flight data and find the buffet characteristics of the aircraft in order to clear the SOFIA aircraft flight envelope and declare it safe to bring teachers and students on board. To explain, since there is an open cavity at the back of the aircraft, common sense dictates that that would significantly change the flight characteristics of the aircraft and cause more "turbulence" in a sense. I took the flight data and analyzed it in order to prove that the aircraft flew like an unmodified 747sp. That summer required a hefty amount of Matlab knowledge. In sum, I have done quite a bit of hands-on flight research in which a significant portion of our project was preparing for the actual flight testing out on the lakebed. I have also used Matlab extensively to process flight data and to model different aircraft characteristics.

Q: What has been your favorite project, and why?

My favorite project was probably my fourth summer at DFRC when I was the technical lead for the INSPIRE team. INSPIRE (Interdisciplinary National Science Project Incorporating Research and Education Experience) is/was (it is currently on hold due to funding issues) a new program for high school students and incoming college freshman to gain experience through internships with NASA at many of their different centers. This was my favorite project because not only was I able to participate in the hands-on flight testing again, but I was able to truly inspire a love of math and science into the ten high school students that I was responsible for.

The project in which I truly felt the most accomplished by the end was when I worked on SOFIA. Every other summer had been more of a team project, but that internship I was able to own all the different projects I did as my personal work. By the end of the ten-week internship I felt thoroughly proficient in my knowledge of Matlab data processing as well as understanding the different types of air flow on an airfoil. That project had quite a steep learning curve and I was able to overcome that and master the subject and therefore, I felt thoroughly accomplished.

Q: How have the science and engineering skills you learned at Biola tied into your work in your roles at NASA?

Honestly, the most helpful aspect of my science classes here at Biola is the rigor of the coursework and the need to learn quickly. Some classes are definitely sink or swim and many of classes have forced to learn to swim in a compact period of time. Now, with the nature of my internships only being ten weeks long, the majority of the material needs to be learned in the first two weeks in the midst of all the other work going on. Therefore, my developed ability to learn quickly and face challenges head on gave me a significant advantage on these short-term projects.

Q: Have any classes at Biola especially inspired or equipped you for this kind of work?

Data Analysis and Presentation as well as Computer Techniques in Science and Engineering did a great job of preparing me for all the work I had to do with Matlab. Most definitely those skills made my application stand out more so than some other underclassmen. Also, of course, my physics classes helped prepare me for understanding the concepts of aerodynamics without ever having had an official class on the subject. Regarding inspiration from my classes, I remember one problem I solved for my physics homework freshman year. It regarded calculating that if a particular constant (eg. gravity etc.) varied only slightly how it would cause catastrophic change in the universe. This was the first time I personally encountered an example of us living in such a fine-tuned universe. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about how light works and how amazing it is that God cared enough to create a world in color and not just black and white. My science classes have all been inspiring and always helped me to shift my focus back to praising God for the amazing world he created.

Q: What made you choose Biola for your studies in science and engineering, and how has Biola done at meeting the goals you have for your life and career?

When applying to schools, Biola was my first and only choice. I knew that I could go to USC or Berkeley or Cal Poly SLO to be enveloped in a purely engineering program and surrounded by hundreds of engineering students, but I truly desired to have a solid biblical foundation for my education. That is why I chose Biola. I knew that in the midst of learning physics that our class would always be pointed directly back to praising God for his handiwork in creation. Also, working at Dryden, I had experienced that many engineers and scientists feel sufficient in their academic knowledge and see no real reason for God. I knew I wanted to learn how to have helpful discussions with my coworkers and be a shining light in that environment. Biola has gone above and beyond my expectations for my major classes as well as my Bible and general education. I have had so many wonderful professors who constantly help bolster my education with biblical perspective. I feel fully prepared to take the engineering world by storm and be a diligent worker and a compassionate coworker and truly shine for Christ in a dark world.

Q: If you could give any advice to prospective students (and their parents) who are interested in a similar career path, what would it be?

My advice to students desiring to pursue engineering would be to work hard, don't be discouraged by low test scores (that's common in this field, it isn't meant to be easy), and get yourself out there. Go apply for internships. Go abroad. Go do something with the skills God has given you. Take your knowledge from the classroom and use it for something cool or good. Be proactive because experience is really what matters in the end. But ultimately, make sure that your focus is always on God, in the midst of it all, keep in mind that God, though he most definitely rejoices with you when you ace a test, ultimately, he is pleased when you are utilizing what he's given you (knowledge, talents, a desire to help others, etc.) to further his kingdom. Never lose that focus.

Q: Would you like to share anything else that you think would be interesting to prospective students?

Go apply!!! NASA has so many cool opportunities in all different fields and they do a wonderful job of providing hands on opportunities and individual projects in which you can directly contribute to a current NASA directive. Do it!

Here are some links to articles about what I did. Thanks for the opportunity to share!